Burn the House Down

davidsedarisOn Wednesday, I ushered for a talk given by David Sedaris (author of Naked, Me Talk Pretty One Day, and most recently When You are Engulfed in Flames) in which he detailed his hilarious personal experiences, primarily in France and Australia. Unfortunately I missed quite a bit of the show because it was a full house (the ushers were dismissed later than usual and my friend and I had to leave the show early in order to get a good spot in line for the book signing afterwards). However, Sedaris was outrageously funny yet also insightful during the part of the talk that I was able to see.

A memorable moment for me was when Sedaris talked about stove tops as a metaphor for life. He recalled a conversation with a friend in which the friend tells him that each person has four burners on their stove top: Family, Friends, Work, and Health. In order to be successful, a person will usually have to turn off one burner. The really successful turn off two. For Sedaris, those two burners were Health and Family. 

Since that night, I have been thinking a lot about my stove burners. What will I have to give up in order to achieve my goals? Although I continue to hope, I don’t really believe in having it all. There are too many examples to the contrary. So I guess the question becomes an impossible one: “What can I learn to live without?” Maybe the smartest people are the ones who answer, “Success,” but I don’t know many people who would actually go through with cutting that ambition out of their lives. I know that I tend to ignore Health until I get sick. Friends and Family also flicker occasionally when life gets too hectic. I worry that one day I’ll turn around and realise that I have nothing but Work to keep me warm at night.

The best humor tells us something true about ourselves. Even through the laughter, we learn to ask questions previously unthought of and start to think about our lives in more meaningful ways.


 Which stove burner have you neglected lately?


3 thoughts on “Burn the House Down

  1. Pingback: Burn the House Down | Your Health..

  2. Pingback: Burn the House Down

  3. I guess David Sedaris is getting a lot of mileage out of that one – can’t blame him – he used it in a New Yorker article this past week. I read it and was very intrigued by the theory, and as I often do I Googled it to get some more insight into it. And so I am writing to you.

    When I first read it, I found it fed automatically into my own feelings of inadequacy and lack of fullfillment, like “Oh here’s why I’m unhappy!” On further reflection, I wondered exactly what is meant by success here. Financial success? Surely you can’t get that without work, or at least not by letting go of it, unless you are very lucky or have wealthy friends or relatives (hence the friends and family burners?) Personal fullfillment success? Could you really attain that by abandoning your health?

    And then the next day, still further rumination led me to prioritize my burners. I think the order I would turn them off in would be – friends, work, family, health. Then I thought of the last two. No friends and no work – would I then choose the life of a healthy hermit, or a sickly family man? I really can’t say.

    Actually, I think the theory really is just a very useful device for looking at one’s life activities in a certain light. A (perhaps) uncustomarily objective one at that. And, one that helps you realize that you really shouldn’t expect to have it all.

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